Do you find that you spend more time fighting fires than getting more of what you really want in your life? In this epsiode Paul talks about a way of prioritising your actions in order to achieve what is most important to you. Grab yourself a pen and some paper and prepare to start thinking about what you do in a new way.

“Faith is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods.” – C.S.Lewis

bad dayA lot of personal development teachers and motivational guru’s like to drill home that the key to success is ‘State Management’, i.e. your ability to manipulate your physical and emotional being so that you are constantly aligned with success producing thoughts and actions. In fact, much of what I do in my own work involves helping people understand the structure of their own thoughts and behaviours so that they gain a deeper insight into what does and doesn’t work for them.

But (and it’s a big BUT) somewhere along the line the original message behind why it is important for us to learn how to master our moods has gotten a bit lost in translations. Rather than seeing it as a practice that we CAN undertake, because it is useful in helping us achieve desirable results more quickly and efficiently, the communication that many people actually get is that if you find yourself in anything other than a “I can move mountains” kind of a mood then you must be doing something wrong… or worse, there must be something wrong with you!

This was explained to me several years ago as being the path to “Self Help Hell”; where someone of a personal journey of growth and discovery spends more time beating themselves up about why they are not feeling more empowered, than they do on actually getting more of what they want.

I always cringe when I hear mantras like “You can’t afford the luxury of a negative thought!” Seriously? If there is ever a battle you are guaranteed to lose it has to be that is that one. At best it is just plain energy zapping.

How many of the thoughts that float through your mind in a 24 hour period do you consciously choose to put there? Thoughts come and go in our heads all day long and, for the most part, they happen all by themselves. Some are good, some are bad. Some go by without so much as a ‘hello’ while others jam their foot in the door and insist on an audience. But just because a negative thought comes a knocking, doesn’t mean you have to invite it in for a cup of tea. It’s just a thought! It is only when you sit down with it and say “tell me more” that you emotionally buy into its story.

In order to stop negative thoughts dictating the mood of your day you do not have do somehow overpower them with nicer happy thoughts; you just need to leave them outside on the step. Sure they might shout at you through the letterbox for a bit, but sooner rather than later they’ll just get bored and wander off.

When it comes to having a bad day, the grumpy mood you find yourself in is not the problem. The problem is almost always in you thinking that you shouldn’t be in that mood and that if you don’t do something right away to snap out of it then that will make you a bad person!!

It is not what people usually expect to hear from me but one of the best pieces of advice I can ever give is that it really is OK to let yourself have an off day from time to time. There will be plenty of days for you to be brilliant and move mountains and love everyone you meet, but if today is not that day then go easy on yourself. Have enough trust in yourself (and the laws of nature) to know that if you just let it be, it will soon pass.

It is like having a headache. If, instead of trying to ignore it, overcome it or simply wish it wasn’t happening, you decided to accept that it is there and that you really can be OK with that, then it will naturally dissipate more quickly and of its own accord. Trying to force ourselves into feeling better when we are in a bad mood often just reinforces the loop of increasing frustration and self-flagellation, which of course means we get to feel bad for longer.


HOMEWORK


I encourage you, next time you are having a rubbish day, or you don’t feel like being the master of the Universe, to just ride it out and stick to these three simple rules:

1, Resist looking for reasons WHY you are in a bad mood and just accept that you are (e.g. don’t try to make it someone else’s fault when really you know its not!)

2, Leave it until you are feeling more perky before making important decisions.

3, Ask “What is the kindest way for me to be taking care of myself right now?” Then with what ever comes up, just do that.

Wishing you lots of Happy days!!!


Take great care. Namaste.

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“Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” – Benjamin Disraeli

HappyI believe we are living in very exciting times when it comes to our understanding of what makes us truly happy in the long term. Up until relatively recently (well, about 10 years ago actually) the general perception of the personal development and self-growth movement was pretty much split down the middle. One half of the camp embraced the theory that “we are what we think” and that we can be powerful beyond measure if we so choose, while the other half would roll their eyes and barely be able to hide their distaste of that “fluffy clap trap!”.

I remember my own internal conflict around that time. While I was hooked on the idea that working on myself and my spiritual path would help me carve out an amazing future – and it has ;o) – at the same time there was another part of me that was just an out and out science guy. I was eager to do as I was told by many of the great philosophers and self-help gurus of the day, but I also wanted to know that there was a solid basis for why I should invest my trust in the principles I was learning.

Notions such as practicing daily gratitude and forgiveness intrigued me. Sure, it felt really good when I did them, but I was kind of left wondering whether I was actually becoming a happier person or if I was just experiencing momentary “nice” feelings.

Perhaps that is why I am such a devout advocate of the field of Positive Psychology; the now officially recognised science of how truly happy people get to be truly happy. Thanks to the work of its founder, Dr. Martin Seligman (and many others since), not only can we continue to put faith into the long trusted principles of personal development and spiritual self-care, but now there is an abundance of empirical evidence to support the fact those principles really do bolster our long term happiness.

Here is one of the most interesting things I’ve learned about the nature of happiness (look for Dr Sonja Lyubomirsky’s brilliant book “The How of Happiness”). Having investigated extensively under strict scientific conditions, psychologists are able to confidently determine that the happiness we experience in our lives is made up of:

50% Genetic “Set Point”
Through clever testing (far too clever to go into here!!) it has been realised that half of all the happiness we feel is due to a natural default level that is different for each of us. This means that unless something absolutely horrific happens to us we will always return to at least our in-build baseline level of happiness after our lives are shaken up in some way (for good or for bad). It would appear this is why some people are better able to pick themselves up after a fall than others. It may also explain why some people seem not to get as excited about exciting events as we think they should!

10% Circumstances
Staggeringly, only 1/10th of our experience of happiness is due to the conditions of our life circumstances. I can almost feel the resistance from some of you as you read this!! (I know it jarred with me at first). It seems completely counterintuitive but, if you are used to living by moderate means, coming into a lot of money will only bring a temporary boost to your happiness at best. If you have always enjoyed good health, a dose of long term illness will not necessarily make you miserable. Leaving a dead end job for a seemingly better one is, more often than not, not all it’s cracked up to be. This is because is it in our nature to adapt to the circumstances of our environment extremely quickly. It is called “hedonic adaption”. Remember a time when you were really excited about buying something new; maybe a car, an item of clothing, or even your house. Now remember how quickly that object felt like any other natural detail of your life.

40% Intentional Activity
Intentional activities are the things that we make a conscious decision to engage ourselves in. Depending on what those activities are we will either experience elevated levels of authentic happiness or simply hang out around our default set point. What the research has uncovered is that the world’s happiest people are those who capitalise on this 40% by routinely doing things that nurture their spirit and help them view their life in a positive way. By making it a habit of immersing themselves in the kind of activities that act a reminder of what is really important to them (see the suggestions in the homework section below), they literally train their neurology to “just be happy”.

We may not be able to control our genetic set point, and changing our life circumstances is only likely to shift our happiness up or down by 10%, but we do have it in our power to choose the quality what we put our efforts and attention onto. The great news is that it is this 40% that can make the most wonderful difference to our overall experience of life.

The moral of the story is, by all means, don’t stop going after all the nice things you want to have in your life (more money, bigger house, nicer car, that promotion, etc) but don’t expect those things to BE the happiness you are looking for.


HOMEWORK


Make a list of the material things you have desired recently (including any external ‘symbols of success’ such as power and status), where you have believed that having them would make you happier.

Just as an experiment, for 30 days make a commitment to stop working towards getting them and, instead, intentionally engage in one (…or some, …or all!!) of these daily activities:

Gratitude – At the end of each day think deeply about what you are truly thankful for (people, things, abilities, opportunities, or anything you think of). Make sure you connect emotionally with your gratitude.

Social Connection – Plan to spend more quality time with your friends or find ways to increase your social circle. Have fun.

Acts of Kindness – Do something every day to make a positive difference to the life of someone else (it is important do this out of love and not because you expect something in return ;o). A powerful way for you to really benefit from this is to perform acts of kindness anonymously.

Health and Wellbeing – Make your own wellness a priority and do what you know to do take better care of yourself. Doesn’t have to be a strict fitness regime; could be getting more sleep, drinking more water, take the stairs rather than the lift, eating your 5-a-day, etc. The important thing is to focus on the respect you have for your body and soul.

Nurture Important Relationships – Treat the most important people in your life as if they are the most important people in your life. Identify areas of your relationships that you have been neglecting and bring your focus back to strengthening those bonds.

Meditate – Regularly make time to be quiet and still. Find some relaxing music or get a guided meditation tape to help you, but either way re-master the skill of just being present in this very moment.

Forgiveness – Identify any people, situations or events towards which you have been holding onto resentment. Do whatever you need to do let go, accept and forgive. As Mark Twain once said “Forgiveness is the fragrance the violet sheds on the heal that has crushed it”

At the end of the 30 days, go back over your original list of ‘wants’ and give an honest assessment as to whether you still want them and, if so, notice if your attitude has changed around what you expect them to get for you.

Wishing you lots of happiness!


Take great care. Namaste. 

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“Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.” – Johann Wolfgang Goethe

timeWe all have the same 24 hours in everyday, and the difference that makes the difference for each of us is how we choose to fill them. The most productive people I have ever met have not necessarily been harder working than everyone else; they just have a skill for appropriately focusing their efforts according to the time they have at their disposal.

The problem with most time management systems is that they are more concerned with generating maximum activity than they are about achieving actual objectives.

A classic example of this is the humble daily To Do list, where we jot down all the tasks that we believe need to be done that day and then re-arrange them so that they are presented in a logical sequence; the order in which we plan to tackle them. A popular approach is to get the quick and easy tasks done first so that we’ll be less distracted when it comes to doing the meaty challenging jobs at the bottom of the list.

Sometimes this works fine, but more often than not we get so caught up in the little tasks (and all the other distractions that inevitably turn up, and were not on the list in the first place) that we find ourselves under real pressure by the time we get to the bigger ones.

So, we might think that the obvious solution is to prioritise the big jobs first so that we can be confident that they will get done, and then rattle through the little ones with the time that is left.

Again, sometime this can work fine, but all too often little jobs left undone have a habit of turning into bigger problems further down the line. The fact is, no matter which way you slice it, prioritising volumes of activity against available time does not guarantee successful outcomes.

One of the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” – the work of Dr Stephen Covey – is the habit of ‘Putting First Things First’. This means in order to know how you need to be spending your time you must first know the reason you are engaging in any activity in the first place.

An employee of any organisation is not paid simply to produce reports, move widgets or go to meetings. Every employee must be absolutely clear how their being there is helping that company achieve its overall mission and objectives.

The same can be said of people in general. It is usually true to say that the reason we go to work, build homes, raise families, support charities, join groups, is not just to fill the time until we leave this mortal coil. It is because we are driven by desires to make meaningful differences in the World (even if we’re not always consciously aware of what that means!). We don’t just go to work for going to work’s sake. We go to work because it contributes to the wider, more important story of our life.

If what you spend most of your time doing is not actually aligned to some bigger purpose or moving your towards your goal, then the obvious question has to be asked – why are you doing so much of it?

Dr. Covey introduces a fantastic prioritisation tool that I have found indispensable in just about every area of my own life. Rather than launching into a flurry of activity in the hope it can all get done within a limited timeframe, the first thing to consider is the urgency of a task versus its importance.

As a simplistic measure of how I gauge this is:

Urgent = Bad things happen if I don’t do it
Important = Good things happen if I do

Imagine a large square that has been equally divided into four smaller quadrants, each of them represents one of the combinations of urgency versus importance.

1, Urgent and Important – Otherwise known as crisis! It has to be addressed right now or there will be serious consequences. Being a frequent visitor to Quadrant 1 takes up A LOT of energy.

* Unpaid bills
* Angry customers (or spouses!!)
* Health problems
* Pressing deadlines
* Fire fighting

2, Not Urgent, but Important – These are tasks that contribute to your mission, roles and goals. They don’t necessarily have to be done now, but if they spend too long untouched in Quadrant 2 they can end up in Quadrant 1!!

* Learning new skills / knowledge
* Looking after your wellbeing
* Objective and goals setting
* Improving processes
* Nurturing Relationships

3, Urgent, but not Important – Lovingly referred to as ‘other people’s problems’!! Of course, we want to be able to help other people because the outcome of these activities is important to them, but when we spend too much time in Quadrant 3, the things are important to us, personally, get left out in the rain.

* Ringing Phone
* Interruptions
* Non-productive meetings
* Request from others

4, Not Urgent and Not Important – AKA ‘wasting time’. There is a time and a place to waste time. At the end of a hectic day it can be just what the doctor ordered to put your feet up, turn your head off and watch some mindless TV. But if this becomes more of a habit than a meaningful use of downtime, then your life direction begins to suffer.

* Trivia
* Gossip
* Excessive TV
* Time wasters
* Re-arranging your desk for the 20th time this morning!


Dr. Covey poses the question, what one activity are you convinced that, if you were to start doing superbly and consistently well on a regular basis, would bring you significant positive rewards in your life? (Perhaps it’s more dedicated quality time with loved ones, or going to the gym, or sitting down and planning for the future). Then decide which quadrant that activity sits in.

The answer is always Quadrant 2 – “Not Urgent, but Important”. It has to be important if it would give you such positive rewards, and it is obviously not urgent, otherwise you would already be doing more of it!

People who spend as much time as they can in Quadrant 2 find that there is hardly ever a need to visit Quadrant 1, because they work on important issues before they become problems. But the reason so few people actually spend enough time engaging in Quadrant 2 activities is because, unlike the other quadrants, there is no built-in mechanism to say when they actually need to be done.


Homework


Take some time and decide on at least three Quadrant 2 activities that would immediately enrich your life in ways that are meaningful to you. Then schedule appointments in your diary for each of those activities to take place over the coming week. Stick to those appointments as if it is crucial for you to show up and do them. If something or someone tries to elbow their way into that time slot, politely refuse and say you’re already booked up. And most importantly, enjoy yourself ;o)


Take great care. Namaste.

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“Life is what you think it is, and gives you what you dare to dream it will.” – Anon

smileOne aspect of the human condition that I find fascinating is the way that we overcome the challenges in our lives tends to be consistent with how easy or difficult we first imagine those challenges to be. We pre-empt the obstacles that are likely to present difficulties, and run a mental rehearsal of our ability to deal with them. Of course, this is a very handy skill to have if you use that rehearsal time wisely, to solve any potential problems before they occur. But if it conjures up images of you getting stuck and frustrated then that is likely to act as precursor for you getting stuck and frustrated in reality.

Barry Kaufman (founder of the Option Institute) once said, “The eye sees what it brings to seeing”, and I think that sums things up perfectly. The moment we predict something is going to be hard, we engage in a search for all the evidence we can find to back-up our assumption. – “I believe life is a struggle, and just to prove it here I am struggling”

So here is a nice little exercise to get your brain accessing the parts of your wisdom that make triumphing over challenges seem effortless.

Exercise:

1, Think about a specific challenge you have that you feel is preventing you to achieving the kind of results you want. Make a statement out of it. Examples:

“It is going to be difficult to learn this new skill.”
“I’m no good at managing money.”
“People are not interested in what I have to say”.

2, Turn that statement around so that it has an opposite meaning. Play around with a few opposites until you find one that feels right and you want to work with. E.g. for some people it might be, “Learning this new skill is going to be a breeze.” For others it might be “Learning is a natural part of who I am”

3, Add this sentence starter onto the end of your statement:

“And I know that’s true because…”

4, Finish that sentence with as many ‘real’ pieces of evidence as you can think of. I’d suggest at least five, but encourage you to keep going and going.

“Learning this new skill is going to be a breeze, and I know that’s true because….

… skilfulness has more to do with practice than talent”
… I’ve seen other people doing it well, so I know it is very possible for me too”
… there is an abundance of people who will help me if I ask”
… I am willing to keep going with enthusiasm”
… there are many skills I can do easily now that I once found challenging”


Take great care. Namaste. 

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“Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.” – Eckhart Tolle

nowWhat do you think of when you think about your future? And when you do think about it, which I’m sure you do from time to time, how you feel? Do you feel happy, excited, and joyous? Or do you feel uninspired, a bit nervous, or even scared?

The reason I ask is because, to an overwhelming degree, it has been my experience that when people don’t feel good about their future the reason for that is two fold. 1) They reflect on their negative memories and feelings from the past and anticipate that it is those memories and feelings that will determine the quality of their experience in the future, and 2) They then create uninspiring or scary pictures in their mind’s eye of just how bad they think the future is going to be for them.

On the other hand when people do feel good about their life ahead that also comes down to two factors. They create compelling movies in their mind of them experiencing their lives in ways that fill them with joy and, more importantly, they are genuinely bought into the realisation that the past does not equal the future.

I’ve yet to meet a living soul who hasn’t had to encounter painful events in their life, or had to overcome difficulties, or deal with the frustration of things not turning out the way they had hoped. I’m convinced that if you were to walk up to any stranger in the street and say to them “I’m really sorry to hear about your problems”, they’d look at you with an amazed expression and say “How did you know?”

So if everybody’s history is littered with memories of the challenges they’ve faced, how is it that some get to anticipate their future more positively than others? It is because the way you feel about your future at any given moment has less to do with what you’ve actually been through in the past and more to do with the quality of the thoughts you’re having in the present about what the past and future means to you.

I have met with and coached many people who have been frightened about what they think their future had in store for them, and in every case the starting point for turning it all around has been one remarkably simple realisation.

People are never scared of what they think they are scared of, they are only scared of what they think.

Here’s why. The relationship between reality (the one that actually happens) and the reality that we make-up in our minds has been one that has confused us since the moment our brains became evolved enough to ponder such meaty topic as the past and future. Somewhere along the line we got it into our heads that the act of thinking a thought makes it true. That’s why when you imagine yourself suffering in the future, say, failing at important tasks, being unhappy in your career, or not achieving what you want out of life, you start to get an uneasy feeling right away. The nervous system takes what ever you think about – past, present or future – and acts on it as if it’s a factual event taking place right now. Of course the problem with this is that most people tend not to challenge the things they feel to be fact, so left unchecked those thoughts get free reign of the imagination and monopolise they way you feel about life.

In those moments when you think about the future it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it has already been determined in accordance with the kind of thoughts you are having about it. But the future doesn’t exist, it never has. All you have is this very moment, now. The future can never arrive because it is not coming from anywhere. What you think of as the future is just a clear empty space into which the Now can evolve, and that empty space is pure potentiality. So the question is not, “What do I want to have happen in the future?” it’s, “What do I want this very moment to evolve into?” and “How do I want it to keep evolving so that this very moment is the best kind of moment I could hope to experience?”.

I’m guessing you’ve already noticed this in your own life, that it is so much easier to make decisions and take action at the times when you can actually be there to make a decision or take some action. It’s always in the present moment. So often we spend time evaluating decisions from the past or anticipating decisions we might need to make in the future, but when it all comes down to it, it only ever happened, or will happen, in the Now. As Erkart Tolle said, “Life is now. There was never a time when your life was not now, nor will there ever be.”

So, if you ever get a bad feeling about the future and you then realise that the future doesn’t actually exist, that just leaves you as a person quietly thinking a thought in the present moment – Nothing more, nothing less. Every thought you’ve ever had took place in the present moment, and a thought, in and of itself, is absolutely harmless. It’s only when you breathe life into it by responding as if it represents actual reality that it can have the potential to cause you suffering.

After a while most people are able to see, or at least understand the idea that the future is not what we usually think of it as being in our heads. After all, intellectually we know that the future hasn’t happened yet, so how could we possibly know how things are really going to turn out? What can be more of a mind bender though is the idea that the past doesn’t exist either. That one really catches people out! “But surely the past must exist, we’ve been through it haven’t we? We’ve had the physical experience of it and can remember it clearly.” That may be true, but when all of those things in ‘the past’ happened, when did they actually take place? In the present moment. There has been no disconnect between that present moment and the one you are experiencing right now. You didn’t leave it behind, you brought it with you!

Right now you may be thinking that I’ve lost the plot, or you might even be wondering, “So what? Why is this significant?” Well the reason that it is significant is because when we believe that our past still somehow exists, it also encourages us to believe that all the hurt and pain we’ve experienced also still exists, but is out of our reach; crystallized in time gone by. If we think that pain still exists in the past but we can’t reach it, then we become more inclined to feel held ransom to it effects.

But even when you think about the past and get that realistic sense that its echo lingers on and that it is following you around, that isn’t the past. That is just a process of thought that is taking place in the present moment. It is nothing more than electricity jumping between neurons in your brain, in the Now. It’s not the past that hurts; it is what you do in the present moment to make a mental reconstruction of old painful experiences that allows the same old feelings to stay with you.

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t think that we have a past or a future, just that we need be clear that the past and future are just concepts that can only exist when we think about them in the present moment. When you live in the knowledge that everything you’ll get to experience in your entire lifetime happens in the continuation of the now, that’s when you can make some real quality decisions about what you want you life to be about. Not later, right here in this very moment.

One of my all time heroes Byron Katie said “Isn’t the past kind? It’s always over.” What she meant by that is the very instant an event takes place it’s already gone, and can only live on as a memory trace in the mind. So if someone was to come and slap me around the face, while that’s not one of my favourite experiences, almost immediately it’s over. Sure, I’ll make an instant creation of it in my mind and replay it like its happening again and again; I may even take some further action, but the point is that what ever I do or feel next is only related to my thoughts in the present moment about what I remember taking place. It’s not what happened to me that determines the quality of how I feel, but what I do with it inside. Which brings me onto one of the most important lessons I believe anyone can learn if they are seeking true happiness and peace in their life.

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional – but you have to provide that yourself.

We all have to go through painful events – that’s just part of life. We fall on hard times, we lose people close to us, we get betrayed, and we find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the pain that is associated with those events needs to be dealt in what ever way is appropriate, because it creates change for us. The way we clear a space for ourselves to adapt to the change is to feel things like sadness, anger, disappointment, frustration… but those emotions are only designed to be temporary states that serve their purpose. Once we’ve processed those raw emotions, then we can re-stabilise and get on with the rest of our lives. The reason suffering is optional is because it requires you to have to build a bigger story about why everything is so terrible and to imagine wider unpleasant consequences. The lingering emotions are no longer to do with the actual events themselves, but a response to the quality of thoughts you’ve added into the mix yourself to spice things up a bit.

I remember about six months after my mum died I was feeling pretty sorry for myself about all the things that I’d lose out on because she isn’t around anymore. My kids would never get to know their Grandmother, she won’t see me getting married, Christmas will never be the same again, etc… But I realised that the major cause of my bad feeling at that time wasn’t that my mum had died, but that I was allowing myself to create unpleasant life like scenarios in my imagination that gave me compelling reasons for why it was necessary to be even more upset. When I was willing let go of my suffering and the story about what it all meant, that just left me with the sadness that she is gone. The sadness I could do something with; it allowed me just to grieve, which is all I really needed to do.

The wonderful thing about knowing that your life only ever happens in the present moment is that it opens you up to this perpetual opportunity of choosing how you want to feel. Regardless of what you’ve thought about your past or future up until now, the only questions you need to answer are “So how do I want to be feeling about my life right now?” and “What would I love to do next?”


Homework


So that’s your homework for today. If the past is gone and the future is just a clear open space of pure potentiality, what do you need to be doing or planning for in this very moment to make Now evolve into something amazing?

And I’ll leave you with this quote from the French writer Antoine de Saint Exupéry:

“As for the future, your task is not to foresee it, but to enable it”


Take great care. Namaste.

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